Structural violence deepens communal violence in India

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By Irfan Engineer, Neha Dabhade and Suraj Nair

2019 proved to be a rather tumultuous year for India signaling unrest and violence especially communal violence. Communal violence is a broader term which encompasses communal riots, hate speeches targeting particular religious community, structural violence targeting any particular community  (Engineer, Dabhade, Nair, & Pendke, 2019). It is observed that since the BJP came into rule from 2014, there is an increase in hate crimes and discriminatory policies targeting the marginalized communities including minorities, Dalits, women and Adivasis. Though the government has ceased to publish National Crime Bureau Records data on the number of communal riots from 2017 which makes comparison difficult, according to CSSS report, the number of communal riots seems to have decreased based on their reportage in leading newspapers (Engineer, Dabhade, Nair, & Pendke, Communal Violence 2018: Locating the Role of State and Changing Nature of Violence, 2019). Structural violence, on the other hand which manifests itself in discriminatory policies by state and state actions leading to discrimination and violence have gained prominence in the past few years. CSSS monitors communal violence annually. This year it will analyze communal violence in three parts, starting with structural violence followed by attitudinal violence and finally physical violence. Given this salience of structural violence in India, CSSS which annually monitors communal violence in India, will analyze below the key aspects of structural violence in India which is fueling communal violence.

Communal riots in the past have had a polarizing effect and helped BJP gain political and electoral dividend. According to Paul Brass, there is an institutionalized riot system in India which can orchestrate violence depending on political exigencies and mostly before elections for political mobilization (Brass, 2004). Owing to the electoral dividends of communal riots, till BJP was not in power, communal riots were orchestrated on a larger scale. These riots went on for longer period and claimed more number of lives, disrupting normal life. Post 2014, riots have been low intensity in the sense that they are of shorter duration and cause lesser disruption of normal day to day life. Thus, the means of political mobilization and polarization have changed significantly after 2014 and in this context; structural violence assumes importance in order to fully comprehend the changing patterns of communal violence.

Structural violence is more subtle in a way it is in built in the structure itself. Thus it is sanctioned and backed by the state with legitimacy. Structural violence is more long lasting owing to its ability to institutionalize violence to perpetrate itself. This makes it possible to influence discourses in a way to reproduce discrimination and demonization of the vulnerable groups. The policies of state and subsequent state action have reinforced and exacerbated this discrimination against minorities which constitutes violence, denying them equal rights and equal citizenship. For instance, to begin with, the very definition of citizenship is undergoing a flux today. Citizenship which is a fountainhead of all rights is contested and defined today in exclusionary terms. The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) seeks to give accelerated citizenship to Hindus, Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. As is evident, the Muslims are excluded from this discriminatory Act. Looking at the nature of this Act one can’t help draw parallel with Israel which practices the “law of return”. The belief that Israel is a natural home for all Jews all around the world is akin to the belief of BJP which in its manifesto claims that India is a natural home for all Hindus all around the world. This Act seeks to contest the very foundation of our constitution which rests on secularism and equal citizenship. This has sparked a primordial fear among Muslims, who see the government’s meddling with citizenship laws as nothing short of an existential threat.

The basic premise on which the CAA and NRC is based on is that there is cross border migration. The BJP depending on their political needs has shifted its definition of immigrants. While in Assam it made no distinction between Bengali speaking Hindus and Muslims based on religion to suits its politics, overtime, it has insinuated that all Muslim immigrants are infiltrators and even termites. Home Minister Amit Shah said, “The illegal immigrants are like termites. They are eating the grain that should go to the poor, they are taking our jobs (The Indian Express, 2019).” The implications are always that these immigrants are Muslims. The line between Muslim immigrants (there is no official data but merely exaggerated figures) and Indian Muslims is blurred by the ideological moorings. This strengthens the already prevalent narrative against the Muslims that they anti-national, regressive, fanatical and violent. This narrative is reiterated by members holding constitutional power knowing well that it is divisive and will demonize the Muslims making them prone to violence and discrimination. The Prime Minister’s statement in the aftermath of the atrocities on Jamia Millia Ismailia students protesting against the CAA is telling on the attitude of the ruling dispensation vis a vis the Muslims. He said, “the Congress and its allies are making a noise, creating a storm. And if that doesn’t work, they are spreading a fire… From the visuals on TV, those setting the fire can be identified by their clothes (Angad, 2019) ”.

The police have used excessive force on the students especially from Universities which in their perception are “Muslim”. The police fired tear gas inside the Library at Jamia University in Delhi and beat up students seriously injuring students. In Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh, the police went one step further: it lobbed stun grenades, which are used in war (Kumar, 2019). This led to an arm of a student being blown off and turned university campuses into war zones putting innocent youth at peril.

The protests against CAA by the students and others have been responded by barbarism especially in UP. “Iss hinsa mein lipt pratyek tatwa ki property ko zapt karenge, aur uss zapt se sarvajanik sampatti ko hue nuksaan ya kahin par public property ko jo damage kiya gaya hai, iski bharapaee bhi hum un sabhi upadraviyon se karenge. Kyunki yeh sab chinhit chehre hain. Wo sab videography mein aa chuke hain, CCTV ke footage mein aa chuke hain. In sab ki property ko zapt kar ke, inse hum iska badla lenge aur sakhti se nipatne ke liye maine iske baare mein kaha hai,” he said.

This intense vicious feeling of revenge of the CM was visited upon the Muslims in UP by sending them notices for compensation of the damage to state property, failing which their meager properties would be attached and confiscated. Most of these are minors and all are poor Muslims. The recklessness and motivated behavior can be discerned from the fact that amongst those to whom the notices were sent included a Banne Khan, 87, who died six-years ago and 93 years old  Fasahat Meer Khan who has been bedridden for years (Chauhan, 2020).  This was coupled with indiscriminate arrests- 3417 people were taken into custody across the state as part of preventive action (Rehman & Sahu, 2019). 19 people have lost their lives in the anti-CAA protest in a span of one week- all of them Muslims. So ruthless was the police that it looted random Muslim households, vandalized their houses and smashed CCTV cameras. In no other protests have such brute force and terror unleashed on the protestors using the state apparatus. While earlier non state actors enjoying political patronage were given a free hand to wreak violence on minorities, now the state has declared war against its minorities by allowing police to use any amount of force selectively targeting Muslims to subdue them.

The CAA is intricately linked to the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The CAA is a precursor to NRC nationwide. The first step in this direction is the rolling out of the National Population Register (NPR). The NRC will compel all the residents of India to prove that their citizens of India through complicated legacy documents. The onus to prove one’s citizenship will be on the residents. The ones who don’t have the necessary documents will face the dreadful prospect of spending the rest of their lives in the detention centres. If the NRC process under the direction of the Supreme Court that was implemented in Assam is any indicator then this process will spell unimaginable miseries for the poor who will scramble to get the necessary documents even at the cost of livelihood. The Adivasis, poor and the transgender community like other marginalized communities, had no access to hospitals for birth certificates and the landless have no access to land documents. This very much reflects the socio-economic scenario in the rest of India. The CAA is a back door method to give citizenship to all those who can’t prove their citizenship except Muslims, clearly discriminating against them and putting them at imminent risk of inhumane life at the dreadful detention centres.

The CAA-NRC policy followed the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir. Article 370 provided special status to Jammu and Kashmir which gave it greater amount of autonomy to make laws. The long standing promise of the BJP was fulfilled by hastily without taking the people of Jammu and Kashmir in confidence. Parliamentary democracy which reflects in dialogue and consultation was compromised by pushing this abrogation by brute majority of numbers in the Parliament. The move shocked and pained the people of Jammu and Kashmir who feel betrayed by this undemocratic authoritarian move. In order to muzzle dissent in the state, the centre has imposed shutdown of internet and phone lines, thereby isolating the state. There are alarming reports of the excesses of the defense force which are arbitrarily detaining men and boys as young as 10 years old and torturing the people into silent submission. This abrogation set a precedence of passing laws targeting the Muslims and reigning terror against them to dehumanize them and quell any voice of dissent.

Such policies are an affront to the very idea of India as conceived by the founders of the country. Apart from such policies which seek to alter the contours of citizenship, one of the ways that communal violence is taking deeper roots in the society is through the saffronization of education with an aim of constructing a narrative that Muslims didn’t contribute to the freedom struggle and denying composite nationalism which was the basis of Indian freedom movement. There is a steady policy followed by the current ruling dispensation of rewriting history to glorify the RSS and the Hindutva ideologues. For instance, the Nagpur University has decided to include a chapter on “RSS’s role in nation-building” in the second-year Bachelor of Arts History syllabus. The university has deleted a part on “Rise and Growth of Communalism”, which discussed the role of the Sangh, along with the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League, and replaced it with the RSS’s role in nation-building (Deshpande, 2019).

Making no bones of their attempt to falsify history to glorify the RSS, Home Minister Amit Shah has urged the historians in the country to rewrite from “India’s” point of view. This was against the backdrop of the design to confer the Bharat Ratna on Savarkar, prominent ideologue of RSS. “Had it not been Veer Savarkar, the 1857 ‘kranti’ (war) would not have become history and we would have been seeing it from the British point of view,” the Home Minister said (The Hindu, 2019). Not only this but on the one hand where universities and students are facing severe repression and denied freedom of expression to critique or question any policies of the state, on the other hand, the university students are expected to endorse the policies of the State. MS University in Vadodara urged the students and the staff to join a rally to support and celebrate the abolition of article 370 (Mohanty, 2019). This was in pursuance of the direction sent out by Ahmedabad District Education Department. A circular issued by the Ahmedabad District Education department asked all government, grant-in-aid and self-financed secondary and higher secondary schools to arrange special lectures, debate, essay and elocution competition, group discussions and other similar contests on the subject of Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution during the school assembly on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday (Sharma, 2019).

The other alarming trend is the astonishingly large sums of money spent on Hindu festivals and statues of Hindu Gods. At the same time, public festivals celebrating other religions or cultures are discouraged. For instance, Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government has allocated Rs 4,236 crores for the Kumbh Mela 2019, an iconic Hindu festival that is celebrated every six years, being held in Prayagraj (also known as Allahabad), which is more than thrice the budget of the Maha Kumbh in 2013 (Business Today, 2019). Ayodhya Deepotsava which precludes diwali has been allocated INR 133 crores, making it a ‘state fair’ (The Indian Express, 2019). This is happening at a time where in Karnataka has cancelled celebrating the anniversary of Tipu Sultan, a Muslim King, who is revered in Karnataka (Times of India, 2019). This is a blatant assertion of Hindu supremacy and state giving hegemony to Hindu religion. These trends not just violate the Constitution which doesn’t allow taxpayers’ money to be spent on religious festivals, but also excludes festivals which are important to Muslims or Christians.

The Constitution has provided for an elaborate system of checks and balances in order to protect the values of the Constitution against the access or overreaching action of any of the arms of the state. However one can witness a steady corrosion of the criminal justice system. The police with their deliberate shoddy investigation and pressure from the political bosses have not been able to protect the innocent citizens. For example, there were numerous instances of Muslims being brutally beaten for not chanting “Jai Shri Ram”. Though it is evident that these crimes are communal, the police have denied that these are communal. For instance, four madrasa students in Unnao, UP were assaulted and forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram”. One of the accused in the case is district secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the BJP’s youth wing. The police denied any religious angle (The Indian Express, 2019). The number of such cases shows that the perpetrators have no fear and these crimes continue with impunity. Similarly, there have been demands in Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka to withdraw criminal cases against BJP leaders involved in communal riots. Earlier in 2019, the UP government withdrew 75 cases related to the Muzaffarnagar riots that took place in 2013. It’s worth noting that 41 related cases have already resulted in acquittal dashing any hopes of justice (Sharma A. , 2019). However, there is a hopeless resignation looming large when it comes to prospects of justice from the judiciary given its judgments on Babri Masjid demolition and criminalization of triple talaq. The verdict of the case of Babri Masjid based on “faith and belief of the Hindu devotees” which directly amounts to defying the Constitution of which secularism is a cornerstone.

India is in grip of an authoritarian state which is waging a heinous war against its own poor and minorities. The ruling dispensation in its policies is undermining the basic tenets of the Constitution and single minded targeting the minorities and the poor. This vile vindictive behavior of the ruling dispensation specifically targeting Muslims is at odds of the idea of India itself. The discrimination, exclusion and the hatred, the structural violence produces is shaking the very foundation of India pushing it towards uncertainty and insecurity. The dominant result will be a monolithic society, fragmented along lines of religion producing a hierarchy in citizenship. The overwhelming sense of trauma and violence will break the spirit of once a vibrant democracy known as India.

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Centre for Study of Society and Secularism

Mumbai

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